About once a year, someone turns a Jane Austen book or one of her clones into a movie.
If that doesn’t happen, a play or book from antiquity gets updated. Or they dig up and renovate a TV mini-series such as Brideshead Revisited.
Whatever is done will be packed with recognizable faces and actors who get to over-act to their heart’s content. Shot in historical settings, crammed full of that era’s dialogue and moral standards — yet, knowing the project will tank at the box office — the producers sit back and await the talk of awards.
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Bright Star breaks the mold in that it substitutes an art-house favorite as a director and saves money by skipping the overpaid star-power talent. And saying that it will be in award-talk circles is a no-brainer.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Jane Campion’s film is an effort good enough to at least get fans of this fluff drooling. Campion (The Piano) directs and wrote the screenplay and bases it gossip, legend and on some love letters left behind after Romantic poet John Keats and his girlfriend Fanny Brawne passed from this life.
For those keeping score, Brawne and Keats were an item. Keats hit is prime in the early 1800s and died young, before he was famous, and way before Brawne. If Campion’s interpretation is to be believed, the poet’s death broke the devoted Fanny’s heart.
Some of you will love all the poetry and a filmed version of the social gamesmanship of Keats’ times. Though critics at the time hated his poems, few critics hate his movie. This one is scratching his head a bit and wonders what all the buzz is about. I was totally bored, but poetry and art flick love stories like this one aren’t my thing.
The performances — however — were entertaining and the film’s award talk will start first with Abbie Cornish (Stop-Loss). She does Brawne as a single-minded, independent young woman in love with Ben Wishaw’s Keats.
Cornish has virtually no chemistry with Wishaw, but the lightning strikes hot and hard in her scenes with Paul Schneider’s Charles Armitage Brown, who does Keats sponsor. Their verbal sparring is world-class and ought to get Schneider some deserved accolades, too.
Campion’s film, while a decent try for this type of flick, is burdened by a boring premise. It quickly becomes more Harlequin romance than a deep look at the poet and his paramour’s struggle. Keats has no money so Brawne can’t marry him; Brown is jealous of Brawne’s influence keeps her at bay. Wisham’s Keats is a complete milquetoast.
That leaves you with the poetry. It is pretty good. There just isn’t enough of it.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated PG for mature themes. It opens Friday, Oct. 9 at the Carmike 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.